Cornish & Tough

A 3 AM start. This is the norm for Tom and Dick, two highly experienced Cornish trawler fisherman with over 70 years at sea between them.

I was lucky enough to be invited to join them aboard the Harvest Reaper recently, and I shot and documented all that I saw. A real privilege. We left the safety of Newlyn Harbour under darkness with no other lights than those that guided us. A cigarette and a mug of tea started the morning for Dick as Tom steered us out of the harbour and into the Atlantic. That morning the sea was flat and calm and the skies were clear.

The first hour or so was uneventful as we sailed further offshore and into the flat waters. Before I knew it, and still under darkness, the nets were being made ready, and it was time to start the first trawl of the day. This was my first glimpse into the world of commercial trawling. Both Tom and Dick made it look all so easy as it’s something they do every day of the week, time after time. The large steel plates that would weigh the net down were winched into the water, and the “Reapers” net vanished below. I watched safely from a distance as we began to trawl.

The time between trawls was divided. First Tom would sleep below whilst Dick guided us safely through a familiar plotted course. One that had clearly reaped, excuse the pun, benefits before. There’s this eerie yet mysterious view you get when you look at the net ropes vanishing in the sea. I guess it’s the uncertainty of what’s going on below, and from a fisherman’s prospective, wondering just how good or bad that trawl might be.

We talked for hours about Tom and Dick’s years at sea, the industry and even odd stuff off subject. Then it was time for the first haul of the day. The sun had risen by then. It was a glorious day. The sound of the winches, cables and ropes broke out. In came the net. Once again everything ran like clockwork. The guys made it all look so easy. That was experience playing its part.

The haul was mixed. Some of the fish I’d never seen before and too many to mention. Tom and Dick set about sorting them, gutting them and then packing them all away in the ice below decks. The net went straight back out again and the trawling continued. They trawled a few more times that day until the light began to fail, and we returned to port. A 10 PM finish.

Until you’ve experienced it first hand, a day in the life of a Cornish trawler fishermen, you’ll have no real idea just how tough it can be. I was knackered, and all I did was watch and document!

A massive thank you to Tom and Dick for allowing me to join them that day. It’s a day I won’t forget.